[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
A few years ago on the John Byrne Message Board, a friend of Byrne’s posted an old piece of paper he’d found, with a list of Uncanny X-Men issues from the 120s all the way up to 150, with a couple of words after each number – in Byrne’s handwriting – detailing what the corresponding issue would be about. It’s a fascinating peak into how things were originally meant to go down. One of the first deviations between the well-laid plan and the awry-reality occurs at Uncanny X-Men #130, which was originally meant to be the end of the two-part Kitty Pryde/White Queen arc (itself only the first act of the Dark Phoenix saga). But by this time, plans have changed, and now issue 130 is used to accommodate the editorially mandated first appearance of Dazzler – a disco-themed mutant superhero created pretty much by committee (a group of Marvel creators that included neither Byrne nor Claremont).
As with Claremont’s attack on Shooter’s edicts through dialogue between Scott and Xavier in Uncanny #129, here Claremont barely disguises his mockery of Shooter’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of disco. e.g., Scott’s dialogue upon entering the music club where Dazzler is performing: “Is this where old discos go to die?”
Because the addition of Dazzler to this storyline was a relatively new development shoehorned into Claremont and Byrne’s plot, they are forced to essentially rehash the plot of the previous issue. To wit: half the team goes to recruit a new mutant; they are attacked by Hellfire Club mercenaries in armor keyed to counteract their powers; they realize that each mercenary is only outfitted to counter one superpower, and by switching opponents are able to turn the tide in their favor. The previous issue ended when the White Queen showed up at the last minute and took everyone down. Here, instead, Scott, Jean and Nightcrawler take Dazzler with them and head to Chicago to rescue their captured teammates. Not a lot of variation, but at this point the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team is so remarkably fluent that they can make just about anything seem cool, even repetitive fight scenes.
In order to keep up story interest, they also inch the larger Wyngarde-seduction plot forward. Back in Uncanny #125, Wyngarde began using holographic illusions to make Jean believe she is having “time-slips” into the late 18th century. “Dazzler” contains the fourth such “time-slip” sequence, ending provocatively with Jean transforming into the Black Queen, basically a black-corseted version of Emma Frost. We are two issues from the culmination of this subplot, and again the controlled pacing by Claremont and Byrne is marvelous.
In retrospect, the expansion of the Dark Pheonix due to editorial interference is something of a happy accident. The storyline ends up being nine parts, comprising three acts which in turn are three parts each: a trilogy of trilogies. It’s an elegant design, and – amazingly – a largely accidental one.
[It is really telling that Dazzler and Shadowcat are created around the same time -- the one made by editorial mandate will become a joke; Kitty is still a major character now -- this week in Astonishing X-Men.]